Thursday, October 18, 2007

Free Will

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It is often said that Calvinists deny that man has free will. Alan Turner begins his article, titled Man's Free Will, by stating:
Calvinists give lip-service to man's free will, but they do not really believe in it.
He closes the first paragraph with:
It is apparent that although Calvinists are disposed to citing their "free will" shibboleths, they do not, for a moment, believe that man actually has free moral agency.
Jack Cottrell, in his article titled Sovereignty and Free Will, writes:
The Arminian doctrine of free will is, of course, strongly denied by Calvinists. It is said that such a notion of free will is a virtual denial of the absolute sovereignty and responsibility by just doing away with sovereignty. Such a doctrine of free will precludes the sovereignty of God, it is affirmed.
In his conclusion he notes:
The fact that God's control is absolute in the sense that he is the creator of all, and that the limitation with respect to man's will is self imposed also shows that God is sovereign.
My purpose in this article is not only to show that Calvinists do not deny that man has free will, but also to show that they affirm that unregenerate man does not have the capacity to choose Christ. To begin, it is necessary to define free will.

Peter Voss, in an article titled The Nature of Freewill, contrasted free will with animal instinct.
What freewill tries to account for is our introspective conviction that we are in control of many of our choices, and thus our destiny - that we are free to think and decide. We contrast this flexible, conscious control that we enjoy with the involuntary action of, say, our heartbeat or digestion, and with the instinctual imperative of a bird's nest-building or a dog's conditioned response. Our decisions are far more independent of nature and nurture than any animal's; we are aware of our ability to think and of the consequences of our choices - we can claim responsibility for our actions. These are the meaningful differences that give rise to the concept of freewill.
The Wikipedia article, titled Free Will, states that:
The question of free will is whether, and in what sense, rational agents exercise control over their actions and decisions.
Further in the same article we note that:
Society generally holds people responsible for their actions, and will say that they deserve praise or blame for what they do. However, many believe that moral responsibility requires free will. Thus, another important issue in the debate on free will is whether individuals are ever morally responsible for their actions - and, if so, in what sense.
Bob DeWaay, in an article titled Free Will or the Bondage of the Will: Definitions are Critical, writes of two alternative definitions, the first of which is in agreement with the above.
The ability to choose between options, either of which could be actualized by the act of choosing.
The second definition he attributes to Jonathan Edwards.
The ability to choose as one pleases.
This definition is where the difference between Calvinists and non-Calvinists lies.

In a description of the book Freedom of the Will, we learn that Jonathan Edwards:
…was responding to Daniel Whitby's article concerning free will. Edwards stated "...that man freely chooses whatever seems good to him, but that what seems good to him is always based on an inherent predisposition. That inherent predisposition has been foreordained and predestined by a sovereign God who does not inhibit man's ability to freely choose from a limited menu."
Edwards identifies a mans strongest motive as that which determines the will.
Part 1, Section 2 - Concerning the Determination of the Will
With respect to that grand inquiry, "What determines the Will?" it would be very tedious and unnecessary, at present, to examine all the various opinions, which have been advanced concerning this matter; nor is it needful that I should enter into a particular discussion of all points debated in disputes on that other question, "Whether the Will always follows the last dictate of the understanding?" It is sufficient to my present purpose to say, It is that motive, which, as it stands in view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the will.
In an article titled The Bondage Of The Will, Steven Houck writes:
There is a very serious error which is widely believed and promoted in our day - the error of free-willism. By the term, free-willism, I am not referring to the fact that man has a will. That is certainly Biblical. In the act of creation, God gave to man the faculty of the will and that faculty was not lost in the fall. All men have wills. By those wills we make all kinds of decisions and choices every day. By free-willism I mean the false teaching that man has a free will. Most people believe that man not only has a will but that his will is free.
He adds:
Thus with his free will a man can either choose Christ or reject Him. He can either choose to be a Christian or refuse to be a Christian. The choice is strictly his. While people or things may influence him one way or another, ultimately no one and nothing can make him choose Christ or not. Even God will never sovereignly cause him to accept Christ by changing his will. God makes His own will subservient to the free will of man.
The Canons of Dordt, Third And Fourth Heads Of Doctrine, deny that conversion comes as the result of the exercise of free will.
Article 10
But that others who are called by the gospel obey the call and are converted is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others, equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversions as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains; but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who as He has chosen His own from eternity in Christ, so He confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son, that they may show forth the praises of Him who hath called them out of darkness into His marvelous light; and may glory not in themselves, but in the Lord according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.

Rejection 3
That in spiritual death the spiritual gifts are not separate from the will of man, since the will in itself has never been corrupted, but only hindered through the darkness of the understanding and the irregularity of the affections; and that, these hindrances having been removed, the will can then bring into operation its native powers, that is, that the will of itself is able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it. This is an innovation and an error, and tends to elevate the powers of the free will, contrary to the declaration of the prophet: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9); and of the apostle: "Among whom (sons of disobedience) also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Eph. 2:3).
John Samson, in an article titled Martin Luther on the Bondage of the Will, writes:
Erasmus presupposed that all of God's commands to obey proved that we had the "free-will" to do so. Luther, with great wit and irony exposes why free will is an erroneous, unscriptural doctrine which, ultimately, undermines the gospel itself.
In Luther's On the Bondage of the Will, in which he refers to Erasmus as "friend Erasmus", he writes:
Section 1: Erasmus' Preface Reviewed
But what they assert is this - That there is ability in us; that there is a striving with all our powers; that there is mercy in God; that there are ways of gaining that mercy; that there is a God, by nature just, and most merciful, &c. - But if a man does not know what these powers are; what they can do, or in what they are to be passive; what their efficacy, or what their inefficacy is; what can such an one do? What will you set him about doing?

Section 7: The Necessity of Knowing God and His Power
Therefore, it is not irreligious, curious, or superfluous, but essentially wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know, whether or not the will does any thing in those things which pertain unto Salvation. Nay, let me tell you, this is the very hinge upon which our discussion turns. It is the very heart of our subject. For our object is this: to inquire what "Free-will" can do, in what it is passive, and how it stands with reference to the grace of God.

It is necessary, therefore, to hold the most certain distinction, between the power of God and our power, the working of God and our working, if we would live in His fear.

Section 167: Conclusion
I shall here draw this book to a conclusion: prepared if it were necessary to pursue this Discussion still farther. Though I consider that I have now abundantly satisfied the godly man, who wishes to believe the truth without making resistance. For if we believe it to be true, that God fore-knows and fore-ordains all things; that He can be neither deceived nor hindered in His Prescience and Predestination; and that nothing can take place but according to His Will, (which reason herself is compelled to confess;) then, even according to the testimony of reason herself, there can be no "Free-will" - in man, - in angel, - or in any creature!

Hence: - If we believe that Satan is the prince of this world, ever ensnaring and fighting against the kingdom of Christ with all his powers; and that he does not let go his captives without being forced by the Divine Power of the Spirit; it is manifest, that there can be no such thing as - "Free-will!"

Again: - If we believe that original sin has so destroyed us, that even in the godly who are led by the Spirit, it causes the utmost molestation by striving against that which is good; it is manifest, that there can be nothing left in a man devoid of the Spirit, which can turn itself towards good, but which must turn towards evil!

Again: - If the Jews, who followed after righteousness with all their powers, ran rather into unrighteousness, while the Gentiles who followed after unrighteousness attained unto a free righteousness which they never hoped for; it is equally manifest, from their very works, and from experience, that man, without grace, can do nothing but will evil!

Finally: - If we believe that Christ redeemed men by His blood, we are compelled to confess, that the whole man was lost: otherwise, we shall make Christ superfluous, or a Redeemer of the grossest part of man only, - which is blasphemy and sacrilege!

Calvinists recognize that God has created man with the capacity to choose, but because of the fall, man does not have the capacity to choose salvation. The only way for a man to be saved is by the direct involvement of each member of the Trinity. God the Father, in eternity past, chose out of sinful man those He would save. Jesus Christ suffered on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God for those whom the Father chose. The Holy Spirit, through the means of the preached word, draws those whom the Father chose, and for whom the Son suffered.
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J. Brian McKillop said...

Pete at posted an article on 10/26/07 titled, 8 Myths of Calvinism.

Myth #3 pertains to this post - Calvinists believe that man doesn’t have free will.

J. Brian McKillop said...

Peculiar Pilgrim posted an article on 01/22/08 titled, Free Will: Making Distinctions.

You can read it here:

J. Brian McKillop said...

I have linked to this article on Sharper Iron. You can follow the discussion there by pasting this link into your browser: